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Harvard Pro-Palestine Groups Organize ‘Week of Action,’ Drawing Criticism for ‘Intifada’ Chants

Pro-Palestine Demonstrators Pass Through Harvard Yard Gate
Frank S. Zhou

Rallygoers march to Mass. Hall from the Science Center Plaza on Monday. Throughout the week of action, speakers criticized Gay for what they described as a lack of adequate support for Muslim and Palestinian students.

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Dozens of Harvard students and affiliates participated in a pro-Palestine “week of action,” which included two rallies and a protest sign-making event, to call on the University to “stop its complicity in Israeli apartheid.”

The week, jointly organized by rank-and-file members of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions caucus of Harvard’s graduate student union and the African and African American Resistance Organization, came after University officials did not meet three demands submitted by students on Nov. 20.

The students demanded that Harvard “divest from illegal settlements” in Israel, reinstate a proctor who was suspended after a confrontation at a pro-Palestine protest, and not pursue disciplinary action against pro-Palestine students. Last month, nine students faced Administrative Board hearings after participating in a 24-hour occupation of University Hall on Nov. 17.

AFRO member Prince A. Williams ’25 said the week was also organized in response to the shooting of three Palestinian students in Vermont on Nov. 25.

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“The Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian sentiment that’s being pushed out by our universities, by our governments, locally and nationally, are contributing to violence at home,” said Williams, a Crimson Editorial editor. “And it’s putting our students in danger, as we saw in Vermont over the weekend. So that was another theme and another reason why people were engaged in this week of action.”

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton and College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the demands. Newton referred to an Oct. 27 speech by Claudine Gay during Family Weekend that condemned antisemitism and Islamophobia.

During a Monday rally in Science Center Plaza, AFRO co-founder Kojo Acheampong ’26 led the crowd in a chant of “Long live Palestine; long live the intifada; intifada, intifada; globalize the intifada.”

The chant “intifada,” which references Palestinian uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza against Israel, drew criticism from the University’s Jewish organizations — Harvard Hillel and Harvard Chabad.

A Hillel statement emailed to affiliates on Nov. 29 described the chants as “abhorrent antisemetic calls.”

“These calls for genocide and anti-Jewish violence throughout the world represent antisemitic speech and are not protected by the University’s community standards,” the email reads. “The interruptions of classes are not protected by the University’s free speech guidelines.”

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In an interview, Acheampong said the chant “symbolizes revolution.”

“I view it as a symbol of liberation,” he said. “So I’m saying we need a revolution. We need liberation everywhere — that’s what the intifada means. The intifada means Palestine will be free.”

“I think people unfortunately can be afraid of Arabic — afraid of phrases that they may not understand the history or the context behind,” Williams added. “But ultimately, as Kojo was saying, ‘intifada’ is a word that ultimately symbolizes the Palestinian right to resist.”

A spokesperson for members of the graduate students union’s BDS caucus declined to comment on criticisms but pointed to the United Auto Workers’ endorsement of the BDS movement on Friday. On Nov. 10, around 64 percent of the members of Harvard’s graduate students union endorsed a statement in support of BDS by UAW rank-and-file members.

Monday’s rally concluded with a march to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of University President Claudine Gay.

On Wednesday around noon, dozens of students participated in a walkout as part of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Over the next hour, the walkout grew in size as more students gathered at Science Center Plaza for the demonstration.

During the walkout, one of the speakers referenced a meeting between a group of Muslim students and Gay, during which the students “shared their traumas about this past month.”

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The speaker alleged that Gay did not answer questions regarding the activists’ three demands and concerns over her condemnation of the pro-Palestine phrase “from the river to the sea.”

“What she did say is that we are forgetting that she, too, has the right to free speech. That is the only thing she said to us and then walked out,” the speaker alleged, drawing chants of “shame” from protesters.

Newton declined to comment on the meeting, which was first reported in a Nov. 27 article by the Nation, a progressive magazine.

Organizers on Wednesday also played a recording from a Palestinian intensive care unit nurse in Gaza, who sent “a message of solidarity” to the protesters.

The week of action included a protest sign-making event Tuesday evening. A teach-in on Black and Palestinian solidarity, originally scheduled for Thursday evening, was postponed due to a scheduling conflict with another event, according to Acheampong.

Williams said one of the most memorable moments of the week was the sign-making event.

“It was a real moment of community-building that was beyond just sign making for a rally,” he said. “People really connected with one another, and people were so eager and willing to help out in the ways that they could.”

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue contributed reporting to this article.

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at madeleine.hung@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com.

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